phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Cut from whole cloth

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 21, 2004

In Reply to: Re: Cut from whole cloth posted by ESC on February 20, 2004

: : Another phrase for which I am looking for the origin and meaning is "cut from whole cloth."

: : I have seen this phrased generally used in two totally different senses:

: : 1) fictitious, made-up

: : 2) new and original, or springing up full-formed all at once without previous development

: : Can canyone confirm whether both of these uses are correct?

: CUT OUT OF WHOLE CLOTH - "Wholly false; without foundation of truth. Back in the fifteenth century, 'whole cloth' was used synonymously with 'broad cloth,' that is, cloth that ran the full width of the loom. The term dropped into disuse along in the eighteenth century, except in the figurative sense. In early use, the phrase retained much of the literal meaning, a thing was fabricated out of the full amount or extent of that which composed it.But by the nineteenth century it would appear that tailors or others who made garments were pulling the wool over the eyes of their customers, for, especially in the United States, the expression came to have just the OPPOSITE meaning. Instead of using whole material, as they advertised, they were really using patched or pieced goods, or, it might be, cloth which had been falsely stretched to appear to be of full width." From "A Hog on Ice" by Charles Earle Funke (1948, Harper & Row)

The OED Online more or less confirms Funk's exegesis of the phrase. It describes the meaning "made up, fictitious" as an Americanism, and lumps all other uses under "various meanings" (all actually related to whole cloth as undivided, of course). SS